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In the late nineteenth century, public art museums were still very much a new phenomenon, especially as far west as Cincinnati. Following the success of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia, the Women’s Art Museum Association was organized in Cincinnati with the intent of bringing such an institution to the region for the benefit of all citizens. Enthusiasm for these goals grew steadily and by 1881 the Cincinnati Museum Association was incorporated. Just five years later, in May 1886, a permanent art museum building was completed in Eden Park and was heralded worldwide as “The Art Palace of the West.”
CAM enjoyed the support of the community from the beginning. Generous donations from a number of prominent Cincinnatians grew the collection to number in the tens of thousands of objects, which soon necessitated the addition of the first of several museum expansions.
In 1907 the Schmidlapp Wing opened, which was followed by a series of building projects. The addition of the Emery, Hanna and French Wings in the 1930s enclosed the courtyard and gave the museum its current rectangular shape and provided the space in which our American, European and Asian collections are currently shown.
Renovations during the late 1940s and early 1950s divided the Great Hall into two floors and the present main entrance to the museum was established. The 1965 completion of the Adams-Emery Wing increased our facility resources further, adding space for the permanent collection, lecture halls and temporary exhibition galleries.
In 1993, a $13 million project restored the grandeur of the museum’s interior architecture and uncovered long-hidden architectural details. This project included the renovation of one of the Art Museum’s signature spaces, the Great Hall. In addition, new gallery space was created and lighting and climate control were improved. The museum’s temporary exhibition space was expanded to approximately 10,000 square feet to accommodate major temporary exhibitions.
By the turn of the twenty-first century, the museum’s collection numbered over 60,000 objects and, today, is the largest in the state of Ohio. In 2003, CAM deepened its ties with the Greater Cincinnati community by opening the popular and expansive Cincinnati Wing, the first permanent display of a city’s art history in the nation. In addition, on May 17, 2003, the museum eliminated its general admission fee forever, made possible by The Lois and Richard Rosenthal Foundation.
In 2006, CAM marked its 125th anniversary with 125 days of programs and events for the community to celebrate. In addition, a Facilities Master Plan, approved by the Board of Trustees in February 2006, provided a plan for growth that will serve the museum for the next two decades.
The renovation of the former Art Academy building was completed in January 2013 and opened as the Longworth Wing of the museum. The LEED certified building is now home to our staff offices and the beautiful new Mary R. Schiff Library and Archives. The rooftop library, overlooking downtown Cincinnati, has an extensive collection of over 100,000 items covering six thousand years of art and art history. The Mary R. Schiff library is available for rental and offers two conference rooms for small corporate meetings or the main Reading Room for cocktail hours with breathtaking views of the city below. This renovation has made room within the museum for approximately 15,000 square feet of gallery and exhibition space including the Rosenthal Education Center.